Rafael Nadal pulled away to beat Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in the French Open final on Sunday for his 14th championship at Roland Garros and 22nd Grand Slam title overall, adding to two records he already owned.
Nadal’s victory came two days after his 36th birthday, making him the oldest title winner in the history of the clay-court tournament.
Ruud led 3-1 in the second set, a deficit that spurred Nadal to raise his level — he took the last 11 games.
Nadal played so crisply and cleanly, accumulating more than twice as many winners as Ruud, 37 to 16. Nadal also committed fewer unforced errors, making just 16 to Ruud’s 26.
When it ended with a down-the-line backhand from Nadal, he chucked his racket to the red clay he loves so much and covered his face with the taped-up fingers on both of his hands.
The Spaniard’s first triumph in Paris came in 2005 at age 19. No man or woman ever has won the singles trophy at any major event more than his 14 in Paris, and no man has won more Grand Slam titles than Nadal.
He is two ahead of rivals Roger Federer, who has not played in almost a year after a series of knee operations, and Novak Djokovic, who missed the Australian Open in January because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and lost to Nadal at Roland Garros.
Given his age, and, of more concern, the chronic pain in his left foot that has been an off-and-on problem for years, Nadal has said repeatedly in recent days that he can never be sure whether each match at Court Philippe Chatrier might be his last.
Yet, he vowed to keep playing, saying that he will “keep fighting to keep going” after Sunday’s win.
And Nadal does not really seem to have many reasons to quit now, considering that he navigated his way past four French Open opponents ranked in the top 10.
On his path to the coveted title, Nadal beat No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round, No. 1 Djokovic in the quarterfinals, No. 3 Alexander Zverev — who stopped because of a foot injury — in the semifinals, and then No. 8 Ruud.
Nadal improved to 14-0 in the finals at Roland Garros and 112-3 overall at his favourite tournament.
Two Grand Slams down, two to go
For all that he has accomplished already, Nadal now has done something he never managed previously: He is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam thanks to titles at the Australian Open and French Open in the same season.
Ruud is a 23-year-old from Norway who was participating in a Grand Slam final for the first time.
He had never even played in a major quarterfinal until now, but he seemed to be in a positive mood after the finals, jokingly telling Nadal that he “wasn’t his first victim”.
Ruud, who considers Nadal his idol, and has trained at his tennis academy in Mallorca, admits to having watched all of Nadal’s past finals in Paris on TV.
The two have played countless practice sets together there with nothing more at stake than bragging rights. Nadal usually won those, and Ruud joked the other day that was because he was trying to be a polite guest.
The two had never met in a real match until Sunday, when a championship, money, ranking points, prestige and a piece of history were on the line.
And Nadal demonstrated, as he has so often, why he is known as the King of Clay — and among the game’s greatest ever.
He can now place this latest Coupe des Mousquetaires alongside the trophies he gathered at Roland Garros from 2005-08, 2010-14 and 2017-20.
He has also won the US Open four times and the Australian Open and Wimbledon twice each.